Saturday, February 22, 2014
Revolution! Rebels Take Over in Ukraine
In the course of 24 hours, the Ukraine's destiny has been totally altered.
The deal between the anti-government rebels and the pro-Russian government of President Viktor Yanukovych collapsed, and matters came to a head today.
President Yanukovych has been formally impeached by the Ukraine's parliament and ousted, most of his support has either melted away or defected to the rebels and his flight was blocked when he tried to leave the country. He compared his opponents to the Nazis and accused them of mounting a coup,says he considers the current parliament illegitimate and won't respect its rulings.
"Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d'etat," he said. "I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed."
Yanukovych has apparently encamped with what's left of his followers in the eastern part of the Ukraine, where a number of ethnic Russians live and he has more support.According to my sources, he said to be in Kharkhiv, close to the Russian border.
In an iconic moment, the rebels took over Yanukoych's palatial mansion an hour's drive outside Kiev:
It is, as they say, no slum. It includes a private restaurant, a golf course, a garage chock full of boats and luxury cars, and 346 acres ( 140 hectares) of park-like grounds. This in a country where the average monthly wage is around $1,000 per month. People walked through the mansion and the grounds and took shots on Yanukovych's private golf course as rebel soldiers and police collected documents, including the charred fragments of a number of papers that someone apparently tried to burn in a hurry.
The rebels freed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko (pictured above) from prison, where she had languished since in 2011. She addressed an ecstatic crowd of 50,000 in Kiev's Independence Square ( called 'the Maidan' in Ukrainian) in Kiev.
Sitting in a wheel chair because of conditions brought on by her imprisonment, she eulogized the protesters who were killed this week by government forces.
"You are heroes, you are the best thing in Ukraine!" she said of the victims. The death toll in clashes between protesters and police, including snipers who fired into the crowd and simply picked off civilians has now reached 82.
And she urged the protesters to stay in the Square and not to give up their encampment in the square.
"In no case do you have the right to leave the Maidan until you have concluded everything that you planned to do," she said.
She also remarked that she was sure now that the Ukraine would join the EU.
New elections were originally set for May 25, but the rebels want them held earlier, as they no doubt will be in they're held at all.
The key to that is Russia and Vladimir Putin.
As I mentioned before, Putin sees this as a Russian security issue, and the history between Russia and the Ukraine makes it even less certain how he'll react.
Since he has a puppet president on hand in Yanukovych and the 'coup' meme has already been launched, I would not be at all surprised if Putin sent in Russian forces 'to restore order'. He might even have the Ukrainian/Russian population in the Eastern Ukraine declare their independence, ally with Russia and then pick a fight with Western Ukraine,after which the Russians would come in. Remember South Ossetia and Georgia?
According to an official Russian Foreign Ministry statement Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has already been talking to US Secretary of State John Kerry, saying that the peace deal signed yesterday had been violated and "sharply degraded by opposition forces'.
"Illegal extremist groups are refusing to disarm and in fact are taking Kiev under their control with the connivance of opposition leaders," Lavrov said according to the statement.
Putin may very well feel that using the Russian military to recreate his client state in the Ukraine is a pretty risk free endeavor.He almost certainly considers President Obama and Secretary Kerry foreign policy amateurs and weaklings unlikely to do more than issue a nuanced statement or two, and the EU lacks the military capability to stop him even if they possessed the spine or the political will. And if retaking the Ukraine gets a little bloody, that's more to the good from Putin's point of view, because it would be an object lesson to others.
Another factor, of course, is the economic one. Even if Putin holds off on sending the tanks in, He will do his best to co-opt any new government. Because the Ukraine is essentially broke.
Putin had bribed Yanukovych and the Old Guard with a $15 billion bailout last December in exchange for not joining the EU, but the Russians doled it out by the month to maximize their leverage, basically giving Yanukovych just enough cash to pay his security forces and keep the regime going. That bail out is history now.
The Russians will undoubtedly make things as tough for a new democratic Ukraine as possible and attempt to starve them into submission. A new EU-oriented Ukraine is going to pay a lot more for gas, which will be regularly cut off from time to time for whatever reason. Russia will also likely embargo the Ukraine's agricultural products, and Ukrainian nationals working in Russia whose jobs aren't essential will be booted out and sent home. Meanwhile Putin will try to sabotage the country's political process and get a pro-Russian government installed again by means fair or foul.
At this point, the Ukraine has less than $18 billion left in hard currency reserves, and immediate debt repayments coming up of something like $10 billion.
So if the West is serious about an independent, EU-oriented Ukraine (assuming Russia doesn't invade), they're going to need debt forgiveness and restructuring along with a hefty aid package, although this time at least corruption will probably not be the problem it used to be. But any way you slice it, if a new democratic Ukraine survives, they are in for a few tough years.